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NAND vendors begin scaling race

Posted: 01 Jul 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NAND  memory market  DRAM 

The Intel-Micron duo, Samsung and Toshiba are fighting for bragging rights in terms of NAND scaling leadership.

In any case, the Intel-Micron duo are talking about a 2x-nm part, while rival Samsung is quietly sampling a 3x-nm device. Micron also plans to produce 3bit-per-cell technology in Q4, according to an analyst.

In DRAM, meanwhile, Samsung is also sampling a 46nm DRAM product, according to an analyst. Samsung could take the technology lead in DRAM with that part.

Who is the scaling leader in NAND right now? Earlier this year, NAND partners SanDisk Corp. and Toshiba Corp. took the scaling lead and rolled out a 32nm device.

Now, Intel Corp. and Micron Technology Inc. are seeking to regain the lead. The Intel-Micron duo recently rolled out a 34nm NAND part. The two companies have a joint NAND venture, dubbed IM Flash Technologies LLC.

Micron is now readying a 2xnm NAND device. "We are not sampling a 2xnm NAND at this time, but will begin sampling in Q4," according to a spokeswoman for Micron.

"The move to produce NAND flash at 3xnm process geometries is well under way and being led by Micron and Intel. Micron stated in its recent financial earnings call that it has completed its transition to 34nm and that it was able to reduce its costs 35 per cent during its fiscal quarter," said Joseph Unsworth, an analyst with Gartner Inc., in a report.

"Micron and Intel intend to retain a strong cost leadership position by starting an industry-leading 2xnm node transition late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter. Micron also plans to produce 3bit-per-cell technology in the fourth quarter; however, this will be a small amount (below 10 per cent) of its production capability in that quarter," the analyst said.

Not to be outdone, Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd is also off and running. Market leader Samsung is delivering 42nm NAND parts.

In terms of shipments, "Samsung's 42nm product is currently accounting for 30 per cent of the mix, with the rest at 5x-nm node," said C.J. Muse, an analyst with Barclays Capital Equity Research, in a report. "Additionally, Samsung is starting to sample 3x-nm node (devices) in order to catch up with Toshiba (32nm) and Micron (34nm)."

Two NAND partners, Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Numonyx B.V., are trailing the pack. They have recently rolled out a line of NAND flash memory parts based on a 41nm process.

DRAM king
In DRAM, Samsung is also making a bold statement. "Samsung has been in production at 56nm since 2008 (about 50 per cent production today). It is now starting to sample 46nm and expects 100 per cent of capacity to be at or below 68nm by the end of 2009, with the proportion of 5x-nm steadily increasing," Muse said. "Furthermore, on a slightly different note, Samsung expects bit parity between DDR3 and DDR2 in 3Q/4Q09 timeframe."

The latest DRAM offering from Micron is 50nm. Samsung and Hynix are shipping 58- and 54nm DRAMs, respectively.

Elpida Memory, Inc. recently completed development of a 50nm DDR3 SDRAM, claiming the chip hits a new low in power consumption for DRAMs.

Some say the memory scaling race is a moot point. The business model in the memory sector is broken, prompting the need for more rational behaviour and consolidation in the industry, according to an executive.

There is also the price and demand issue. "Continuing the trend of the past three weeks, spot pricing (for DRAMs) maintained a mild decline of 0.7 per cent, compared with the previous week, standing at $1.28 on a 1Gbit equivalent basis," said Brady Wang, an analyst with Gartner Inc.

"The price for the mainstream device—1Gbit—was down 0.9 per cent, standing at $1.09. This market is still sluggish because demand in the PC segment is still weak," Wang said.

"NAND spot prices slipped slightly lower as pricing softened in the 16Gbit and 32Gbit MLC parts, which countered pricing gains in the 8Gbit parts. As the 32Gbit MLC NAND device continues to mature, Gartner expects that it will pressure the lower densities, particularly the 16Gbit part," said Gartner's Unsworth.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times

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